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Khaliji Music

Traditional Khaliji musician
Traditional Khaliji musician

In recent decades the culture of the Gulf has also started to influence the wider Arab world, reversing the traditional direction of cultural influence. Khaliji (Gulf) music, in particular, has acquired audiences far beyond the Gulf. Egyptian and Lebanese popstars often include khaliji songs on their albums. The Saudi Mohammed Abdu (or Abdo) or the Kuwaiti Nabeel Shuail are well known by lovers of Gulf music.

Khaliji is a typical marketing term, comparable to catch-all musical labels such as ‘Latin’. It therefore covers a range of musical genres that were known only by individual local names a generation or two ago. Among the most prominent in Bahrain has been the genre called fijiri (to dig up, possibly referring to the pearl divers), a range of different types of song traditionally performed by pearl divers. Because most pearl divers in the Gulf were East African slaves or former slaves and their descendants, most musicians in Bahrain have been and still are of African origin, including the three mentioned above. The African influence on ‘Bahraini’ or khaliji music can be heard clearly in its typical use of a pentatonic scale and 6/8 and 12/8 beats. This maritime musical tradition differs from that of the city or the desert in its use of instruments that travel well aboard ship, such as drums and clay pots.

While popular Arab music from the Mediterranean Arab world has been strongly influenced by Western music, the popular music of the Gulf has generally retained more traditional local elements. This is apparent not only in Bedouin, African, and Indian influences on its styles but also in the lyrics. While Egyptian pop stars often seem to copy their lyrics from the likes of Michael Jackson and Shakira, the lyrics of popular Gulf singers tend to draw on age-old classical Arab tradition.

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